Mobile Turkey Unit deploys for Thanksgiving

Volunteer cook Dan Saul bastes a line of waiting turkeys earlier this week as the Mobile Turkey Unit prepares food for this year’s free feast. - Brian Kelly / The Record
Volunteer cook Dan Saul bastes a line of waiting turkeys earlier this week as the Mobile Turkey Unit prepares food for this year’s free feast.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / The Record

If turkeys could talk, they might not have too many nice things to say about Tom Arhontas.

Everywhere else, though, the memory of the beloved bus driver brings radiant smiles and a continuing commitment to help the hungry each Thanksgiving.

The founder of South Whidbey’s Mobile Turkey Unit, Arhontas passed away in early 2008. Arhontas created the all-volunteer group nearly a decade ago to cook and deliver turkey dinners to shut-ins and others who would otherwise go without the year’s most celebrated meal.

This year was the second for the Mobile Turkey Unit without its legendary leader behind the helm. But organizer Joan Smith said the group was working hard to make Arhontas proud.

Early Wednesday, volunteers gathered in the kitchen at the Eagles Aerie on Highway 525 to cook 10 22-pound turkeys, 60 pounds of Black Forest ham, and 300 pounds of mashed potatoes.

That was only part of the meal, of course, which also included plenty of gravy, stuffing, yams, pumpkin pie and more.

“We’re planning on keeping Tommy’s Mobile Turkey Unit going for ever and ever, amen!” Smith said during a short break in the cooking.

She said at least 200 families would be getting one of the unit’s Thanksgiving meals, prepared by a group that now numbers more than 150.

“Cooking is the easy part,” she said, adding that delivering the free meals from Clinton to Greenbank was the real chore.

Even so, it is work that’s never lacked for volunteers, she said.

“Everybody wants to deliver,” Smith said, explaining that it brings great gratification to the drivers.

Smith recalled the story of a young girl who saw a Mobile Turkey Unit driver pull into her family’s driveway. She ran out into the driveway shouting, “Mommy, mommy! The turkey is here! Thanksgiving is here!”

“How can you not want to be a driver?” Smith asked.

Getting ready for the movable feast starts early the day before Thanksgiving each year, when the cooks get to work. It continues early on the holiday, when drivers begin deliveries at about 9:30 a.m. after Father Rick Spicer from St. Hubert Catholic Church comes by to bless the food.

Smith heaped great praise on the Eagles for letting the Mobile Turkey Unit use its facility near Freeland.

“If it weren’t for the Eagles bringing us all together, it would be nothing,” she said.

A lot of credit, too, should be given to the loyal cadre of Arhontas’ longtime volunteers, and those who have donated to the cause, whether it was gifts of food, time or money.

“It’s amazing how people in the community have stepped up,” she said.

“It’s just a total community love fest.”

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